Plot Busters – How To Train Your Dragon (2)

Ever wonder about that sagging middle? Understanding structure helps to eliminate those worries. A little bit.

The set up is over. Now what? Well, if you’ve set up Act I the right way – plenty can happen.

Here’s how Blake Snyder in Save the Cat breaks it down.

Act II

B Story: (The A story or main thread has been established – we want something new! Often the love story and internal story.)

A Story – His dad is off trying to find the dragon’s nest, and Hiccup starts his dragon training with his peers. We get to know his friends and future allies.

B Story – Hiccup finds Night Fury and realizes the dragon is injured and can’t fly. The B Story is Hiccup’s developing relationship with Night Fury, but going deeper, it’s Hiccup’s story of figuring out who he is as a Viking.

Fun and Games: (According to Blake, this is the promise of the premise, the heart of the story, the stakes aren’t raised significantly. Fun.)

For me, this is Hiccup flirting with the dragon, gaining his trust, fixing his injury. His journey in “training a dragon”. Eventually, he flies Night Fury.

But I would also include his failed attempts at dragon training with his peers.  But as he trains Night Fury through communication instead of violence, he is able to relate to the dragons in his training. And he becomes a hero among his peers. Plus we see his relationship developing with Astrid, the cute girl, who wants to be the best dragon killer.

Midpoint: (Stakes are raised, big twist, new direction.)

  • Hiccup’s dad returns, learns that Hiccup is doing well but misunderstands and thinks Hiccup is actually killing the dragons. (A false win.)
  • Hiccup wins first place in dragon training. (A false win.)
  • And, Astrid discovers Night Fury, who Hiccup has named Toothless. Uh-oh!

Bad Guys Close in (Act II from the midpoint until Act III. The stakes are raised and the fun and games are over.)

When Hiccup’s dad returns, there’s no more pretending. He passes on to Hiccup a real Viking hat with horns. His dad is excited because now they can really talk – about killing dragons. And in the upcoming final exam, he can’t wait to see his son in action. (Great conflict!)

But before the final exam, Hiccup wins Astrid over to his side by giving her a ride on  Toothless. The dragon takes them to the famed nest that the village has been in search of for hundreds of years. And they discover the real reason for the dragon raids: there is a monstrous dragon living in a mountain and he needs to be fed. Talk about a bad guy. (I loved watching Hiccup and Toothless win over Astrid!)

Push comes to shove and the final exam arrives. Hiccup announces to his dad and the village that they are wrong about dragons. (Talk about bravery! Hiccup is changing, folks!) He throws down his shield and spear. His dad is furious and scares the dragon, who becomes enraged and goes after Hiccup. Toothless hears Hiccup’s cries and comes to the rescue. Except Hiccup’s dad captures Toothless, and feeling the ultimate betrayal, throws Hiccup in a cell. Hiccup slips about the nest and the dad, enraged, disowns Hiccup.

All is Lost:

Astrid says it best. “You’ve lost everything.” And he had. His dad, Toothless, the respect of the village, his friends – he couldn’t feel any worse.

Dark Night of the Soul:

He didn’t think he could feel any worse until his dad chains Toothless to the ship to guide him to the dragon’s nest and sets sail with a fleet of ships. Hiccup watches them sail away. Helpless. He’s lost everything. And now he might really lose his dad too. (I love these moments! Anyone else a little sadistic?)


As writers though, we know that the best part is yet to come. And this movie followed structure with great success. The beginning hooked me but the ending made me a fan. But you’ll have to wait until next time! We’ll wrap it up with the final act.

Have you ever studied books for structure? Just curious.

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18 Responses to Plot Busters – How To Train Your Dragon (2)

  1. Stina Lindenblatt January 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    I might have way back when, though I think I spend time anayzing them scene by scene instead of how you did it. This is a great approach. I probably do it more subconsciously now when I read certain books.

    Hope this becomes a new regular feature, Laura. 😀

  2. Angela Felsted January 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    I really need to go see this movie.

    • Laura January 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

      angela – It was definitely worth watching. I loved it. And not just for its structure.

      Stina – I might do it again depending on the response. And when I find a book that meets the requirements. I don’t want to point out weak structure!

  3. shelley January 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    I think I subconsciously study all books for their structure….and it impacts my own writing.

    Structure can really be a struggle (for me).


    • Laura January 12, 2011 at 2:33 pm #

      Shelley – I think I know structure to a certain degree, but I’m looking to fine tune it and really understand how it can make my writing stronger. I think when we read a lot, we pick up a lot.

  4. Susan R. Mills January 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Yes, a lot lately!

  5. Patti Nielson January 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    I’ve been doing it a lot more. Your posts have really helped.

  6. Matthew Rush January 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    This series rules. Now if only I can somehow apply these concepts to my novel …

    • Laura January 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm #

      Matthew Rush – I’m constantly trying to apply these concepts to my writing! Not easy!

      Patti – Great! I’m really going to dig in this year.

      Susan – Great! hope you’re learning a lot!

  7. Jennifer Hoffine January 12, 2011 at 11:22 pm #

    Great example to use in these posts.

    I should analyze plot more than I do…I think it happens more in my subconscious too.

  8. angela January 12, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

    This is the second post I’ve read today about this book, and I really must get my hands on it! Thanks, Laura!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

    • Laura January 13, 2011 at 1:06 am #

      Jennifer – It happens in my subconscious too but I wanted to catch little things that my brain was missing!

      Angela – remember, this was based on the movie! The book is a lot different. Still a lot of fun, just different.

  9. Karen Strong January 13, 2011 at 2:36 pm #

    Being a plot chick, I LOVE looking at structure. You’ve done a really good job at breaking down Act 2. Great plot post.

    I have yet to see this movie. My god-daughters love it. I may have to check it out. I’ve heard it’s funny and good.

  10. Lydia Kang January 13, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    I love these analyses! I find them really useful, thanks Laura!

  11. Cinette January 14, 2011 at 5:06 am #

    I was amazed at the difference in the movie and the book. They were almost nothing alike!
    I actually need to focus more on the structure of novels I’m reading; I tend to blissfully lose myself in the story.

    • Laura January 14, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

      I agree the movie and book were very different, but the book found great success!

  12. Susan Kaye Quinn January 15, 2011 at 4:44 am #

    I keep telling myself I’m going to study books for structure, but I don’t buckle down and do the hard work of really puzzling it out. But I recognize it (like in this movie). I really need to do this.

  13. Laura Marcella February 3, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    I liked the scene when Hiccup (I love that name) and Toothless win over Astrid, too. It’s so funny when she punches him in the arm then kisses him. So cute!

    When I’m really into a novel, like I-can’t-turn-the-pages-fast-enough into it, I don’t pay attention to structure because I’m so absorbed in the story and characters. But often I’m reading and I’m really struck with wonder at how the author accomplishes what she does, so I put on my writing brain and analyze it.

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